Women, Race, and Sports: Life Before Title IX

Author:Patricia A. Cain
Position:Professor of Law, University of Iowa College of Law.

I. Introduction II. A History Of Women's Basketball III. The Women's Division, The Aau And The Racial Divide A. Competitionjor Women is Bad B. Competition is Good C. The Racial Divide IV. Conclusion Postscript: Lowa


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I Introduction

In 1972, Congress passed Title IX.1 On its face, Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funds. Shortly after its enactment, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), the agency responsible for enforcement of Title IX, began work on regulations to implement sex equality in education and announced that its regulations would cover athletics2 The concept of sex equality in college athletics was surprising to many people in the early 1970s.3 Senator John Tower of Texas quickly introduced a bill to exempt all athletics programs from Title IX, and when that failed, proposed to exempt all revenueproducing sports from Title IX's equality mandate.4 The Tower proposal was defeated.5 lnstead Senator Javitz's compromise proposal was adopted, authorizing HEW to regulate athletics so long as the regulations included "reasonable provisions considering the nature of the particular sports.,,6

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) supported the Tower amendment and fought sex equality in college athletics from the beginning.7 When HEW finally issued regulations to implement gender equity under Title IX, the NCAA filed suit challenging the regulations.8 At the same time that the NCAA was challenging gender equity, it was also plotting the takeover of women's collegiate sports.9 In the 1970s, during the early days of Title IX, women's collegiate sports and the national championships were administered by a national organization formed and ron by women, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).10 As national interest in women's sports increased, the NCAA, having initially taken the position that its '''jurisdiction and authority' ... were 'limit[ed] to male student-athletes' [and] that women were prohibited from participating in NCAA events,,11 changed its stance by 1978 when it began courting women's collegiate teams to participate in NCAA-sponsored national championships.12 In 1981, the AIAW filed suit against the NCAA, claiming a violation of the antitrust laws.13 The AIAW lost the SUit,14 Women's collegiate athletics and national championships have now been under the control of the NCAA since the early 1980s.15 The growth of women's athletics in the 1970s also caused sorne changes in how colleges administer women's athletics.16 Por example, at most institutions, women's sports moved from a separately administered program into an "integrated, unitary administration of men's and women's athletics." "In 1972, only six per cent of the collegiate athletic programs were administered by merged departments. [By 1983], approximately 80% [were] ....,,17

In 1979, in the .wake of the NCAA takeover, a group of concemed Page 339 womeiJ. collegiate athletic administrators founded the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators (NACWAA).18 The purpose of the organization was "to preserve and enhance opportunities for leadership and career development of women athletic administrators and to strengthen collegiate athletic programs, particularly as they relate to women.,,19 The NACWAA remains active today.

Christine Grant's presentation at the Journal symposium shows us the gains women athletes have made under Title IX and NCAA governance, as well as showing us the great distance left to travel before we attain true gender equity.20 Grant's presentation of the history of Title IX and women's collegiate sports is particularly important because Grant herself lived through this history and was an active national player in the resistance of the AlAW to the NCAA takeover. Dr. Grant began serving as the director of women's athletics at the University of lowa in 1973, and is a past president ofboth the AIAW and the NACWAA.

Frank Rudy Cooper tells us that his contribution to this symposium began with a Title IX question about race equality in women's sports.21 He asks whether Title IX had helped or hindered the participation of women of color in sports and concludes that Title IX has provided greater benefits to white women than to women of color.22 Cooper also makes él case for applying intersectionality theory to sex equality issues such as Title IX in order to protect the most disadvantaged women athletes.23 He argues that before we adopt a remedy such as Title IX to reduce sex inequality in sports, we ought to look to the particularized situation of women, especially women of color, rather than viewing the problem from the more general perspective of women as a group.24

These presentations were very different from each other, yet they both Page 340 challenged the progress that has been made under Title IX.25 Instead of offering specific cornments about each of these presentations, my addition to this symposium topic will be to go back in time. My focus is on the years before Title IX was enacted and the early years of its existence before it was fully enforceable.26 By offering historical context to the current struggle, I hope to add greater understanding to why we face the current resistance to full implernentation of gender equity in sports. I will also highlight sorne specific issues that affect women of color in this history. Because cornmentators are expected to keep cornments to a minimum, my focus will be limited to historical observations about two particular women's sports, basketball and track and field. These two sports happen to be the two sports that symposium presenter Christine Grant previously coached. I choose these two sports both because they are interesting and because they allow me to mention sorne specific Iowa contributions to this history of women in sports, pre-Title IX.

II A History Of Women's Basketball

Basketball was created in 1891 by YMCA worker James Naismith, and the rules were first published in 1892.27 It was designed as an indoor game to be played during the winter months and quickly caught on among women and girls.28 Playing indoors not only shielded them from the elements, but also from public scrutiny. The game as originally created was for a fiveperson tearn, all of whom traveled the full length of the court, much as we are accustomed to seeing today.29 Almost irnmediately, however, sorne Page 341 educators began changing the rules of basketball for women.30 In 1899, Smith College Athletic Director Senda Berenson, who had modified the rules for her students, organized a National Women's Basketball Committee of the American Physical Education Association.31

With the cooperation of the Spalding sporting goods company, the Committee promulgated the first women's rules in 1901.32 The women's game consisted of six players and three court divisions33 Two players were assigned to each of the three court divisions.34 The players could not leave their division of the court, could dribble only once, and physical contact and guarding of shooters was prohibited.35 In 1938, the court was changed from three to two divisions.36 The six-player teams consisted of three forwards and three guards.37 No player could cross the center line, and only forwards could shoot the ball.38 If a guard was fouled, the free throw was assigned to a forward at the other end of the court.39 As a result, the forward learned to shoot and the guards ·learned to guard, but no pIayer Ieamed how to do both.40

The justifications for using special rules for girls and women who pIayed basketball have varied over the years. In the early days, rules that imposed limited motion by confining players to less than the full court were thought necessary for females who played in attire that was not well-suited for ease of movement.41 In addition, allowing six rather than five players was preferred because more girIs were given the opportunity to participate in the game.42

While girls' basketball was a popular sport, very few high schools or colleges had school teams competing in interscholasti'c or intercollegiate Page 342 competitions.43 Female Physical Education (PE) teachers at the high school level were opposed to such competitions because they believed the competitions created too much stress and strain for female athletes and risked creating a spectacle of women vying in public.44 By 1920, most schools had adopted the non-competition philosophy set forth by· the PE teachers and restricted girls' basketball play to intramural competitions, which they considered less stressful and less public.45

The state of Iowa apparently rejected the non-competition philosophy.46 Beginning in 1920, a statewide toumament of girls' high school basketball teams was held in Des Moines each year.47 In the early days, the toumament included 250 teams.48 By the 1950s, the toumament had gained such popularity that it attracted over 87,000 spectators.49 The toumament was big business and the revenues supported a broad range of girls' interscholastic sports activities.50 All teams played under the girls' half-court rules.51 By the 1970s, college women's basketball, no doubt with the help of Title IX, was on the rise. College teams played under the five-on-five full court rules, but a number of states nonetheless maintained half-court rules for high school girls teams.52 By 1976, however, only six states, including Iowa, continued to support half-court basketball for girlS.53

In 1976, Victoria Cape, then a high school junior, challenged the use of half-court rules by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association in federal court.54 The district court dismissed her Title IX cause of action,55 citing a recent Seventh Circuit opinion that had held no private cause of Page 343 action existed to enforce Title IX.56 The court, however, ruled in her favor on her constitutional...

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